Story | 04/14/2023 10:47:00 | 8 min Read time

Oona Koski: "Even in large companies, shared and individual values can be at the heart of everything"

Hanna Jensen

Text

Sanna Lehto

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Oona Koski, Senior Manager Sustainability and Market Development for UPM's Biofuels and Biochemicals businesses, is tasked with looking at the company's own solutions with a critical eye. She points out that the planet will not be saved by a single act of brilliance.

You work in corporate responsibility, but you say you have an engineer's heart. What does it mean?

I prefer to approach things rationally and through facts. Beyond mere theorising, it is important for me to find solutions through trial and error. But there is an underlying emotion in what I do. Successes and failures affect me.

What is the purpose of your job?

To find sustainable fuels and renewable materials as we need new solutions. My job is to assess the sustainability, environmental impact and responsibility of these solutions, also from a social perspective. The aim is to avoid dependence on fossil raw materials and to avoid over-consumption of renewable resources.

What kind of positive change are you making at work?

For the past few decades, the world has been trying to find concrete solutions to the excessive use of fossil fuels and the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Hasty political decisions have been taken in the hope to find "the" solution. But there is no single solution. It is made up of different streams. In my own team, we look at a wide range of solutions and consider what raw materials could be used to produce renewable biofuels and bio-based materials in a sustainable way.

What responsibilities do you have in your job? What are your concerns?

I am constantly assessing whether we are going in the right direction and doing it responsibly. As we work on new things, we have to think about how to make them profitable and whether they fit into UPM's strategy. No single company can implement all the right solutions. I am responsible for ensuring that the work is done in line with the strategy, from a sustainability perspective.

 
 

What are you a trailblazer in?

I have always wanted to learn new things. The moment I learn something, I'm already looking for the next piece of information to immerse myself in. The superpower I have developed is the ability to combine bits of information and find solutions that go beyond the sum of their individual parts.

What has always been considered toxic to you?

I'm interested in developing and implementing things, but routines are a red flag: you should be able to improve routines as well. 

Do you have a guilty conscience about anything?

I still have quite a lot of business trips and I feel a conflict between my job description and flying. However, sometimes it is essential to meet face to face. The last time I was in Germany was before Christmas. Many others could get there by train or car, but from Finland you have to fly because of the distance and time constraints.

Hasty political decisions have been taken in the hope to find "the" solution. But there is no single solution.

How fast do you think the world is moving from fossil to renewable raw materials?

Over the last ten years, the pace has gone up and down. Sometimes the world tries to move forward at the speed of light, only for the big wheels to get stuck. You then have to go and turn them by hand. The will to move faster than we currently are is strong, especially in Europe. We should find a way to be able to accelerate the transition more smoothly.

What do you wish I wouldn't ask you?

I hope you don’t ask me which single solution will save the planet. There is no such thing.

I think this is a topic that interests you.

Yes. As I said, there is still too much belief that a single solution, such as fusion or solar energy, can solve all of our climate problems and re-establish global balance. When everyone is scrambling to go in the same direction, progress starts to drag, because we should be building a holistic future.

Biodegradable and compostable plastics are a good example of this. They were initially thought to solve the plastic problem. However, it has now been discovered that biodegradable packaging will not work if it is used in the wrong ways. The perception has become more negative, even though biodegradable materials are actually a good solution in the right places. So a happy medium is needed.

What is your relationship with nature like?

My current work involves developing carbon farming projects, with the aim of sequestering more carbon in the soil. I have found that even in a sector that is completely new to me, I have a hands-on approach. The laws of sustainable agriculture are familiar to me, even though I am not from the countryside. I have a close relationship with the forest and I love the sea and lakes. Perhaps we Finns have a relationship with nature from childhood, because nature is always close by.

Tell us about the future you want. What is it like?

In the future, I hope that we can talk about the whole of the planet and climate change, rather than individual details. Locally, there is also talk of biodiversity and water resources. In the future, instead of trying to do everything everywhere, measures have been found that are best suited to each region. We understand the different levels of action, global and local, and how they meet. People are again able to live in better symbiosis with their environment.

What is holding us back from getting to this future?

At the moment, we are proactively trying to rule out our mistakes through legislation. People often get caught up in the details for long periods of time for fear of someone deceiving them or abusing their position. Caution is certainly necessary, but in times of uncertainty, you must have the courage to act. Otherwise we lose the original good idea. We must have the courage to trust that if something has gone wrong, the problem can be fixed because we have been prepared for it. This is what transparency is all about.

I think it is a common misconception that big companies are automatically the "bad guys" who exploit people and the environment.

Whenever a change in the law is needed, we are at the heart of something new. What is that change in your work?

In my job, everything revolves around different legal changes... Especially the fuel business and everything related to materials is changing, especially at the EU level. I believe that even in all of its complexity, legislation contributes to sustainable development. Legislation sets minimum standards, which discourages free riders: for example, when legislation sets emission limits for companies, everyone has to comply with them. Then everyone is forced to keep up. The most successful companies tend to be ahead of the law and create a competitive advantage for themselves. 

In what direction do you hope UPM will move?

I hope that UPM will become even bolder. That we dare to move forward with change without losing our own lead.  

It is important that as many companies and individuals as possible act in accordance with responsible and sustainable solutions. This can be achieved much more quickly through the various value chain collaborations that are already taking place at UPM, and hopefully even more in the future. 

 
 

Refute a common misconception about your work.

I have worked in big companies for more than ten years. I think it is a common misconception that big companies are automatically the "bad guys" who exploit people and the environment. Even in large companies, shared and individual values can be at the heart of what we do.

Big companies may exercise more caution in relation to what they say and do than smaller ones, since big companies are heavily challenged and their activities are closely scrutinized for any mistakes. Big companies can make mistakes in the same way as individuals. But it is wrong to assume that all large companies by default act at the expense of the individual or the environment. 

Finally, where do you find peace of mind?

I have a forward-looking mind that finds peace in movement and action. That is, when I myself and the things around me flow harmoniously.

 

On this website, UPM publishes articles that reflect on the kind of tomorrow we want. We seek answers to the questions shaping the future and showcase the people who are changing the world through their actions. In the article you just read, you were introduced to one of them.

 

Author

Hanna Jensen

Hanna Jensen

Text | The author Hanna Jensen is a journalist and non-fiction writer. Her texts have been published in, amongst others, the Finnish newspapers Helsingin Sanomat and Suomen Kuvalehti.
 
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